Original member of the 148th Fighter Wing pays a visit

Captain Howard Ramstad (Ret.) reflects on a photograph taken by him of the original members of the 148th Fighter Wing. Capt. Ramstad, a founding member of the 148th Fighter Wing, was a pilot who flew the P-51 Mustang among other aircraft throughout his career.

Captain Howard Ramstad (Ret.) reflects on a photograph taken by him of the original members of the 148th Fighter Wing. Capt. Ramstad, a founding member of the 148th Fighter Wing, was a pilot who flew the P-51 Mustang among other aircraft throughout his career.

DULUTH, Minn. -- "It's a thing to behold." That's what Captain Howard Ramstad said when asked what he thought of the base as it stands today. And he would know; Capt. Ramstad is one of the original members of the 148th Fighter Wing, having joined back in 1948. Born in 1921, Capt. Ramstad was on hand to photograph the original muster of the first group of enlistees here at the 148th Fighter Wing.

Capt. Ramstad and his cousin, Howard Rockstad, were on a road trip that brought them to the 148th Fighter Wing June 28, 2011. During his visit, Capt. Ramstad had time to share memories and insight with a few current members here at the base.

One of his significant memories centered on a particular flight in a P-51 Mustang--a flight that stands out among his 22 years of service which ended when he retired in 1960.

It was during a routine trip back to Duluth after having maintenance performed on a P-51 Mustang, which Capt. Ramstad had stopped to refuel near Kansas City, Kansas. While refueling, he heard on the radio that there was a B-36 up in the air that would like any fighters in the nearby area to ascend and run aerial combat maneuvers.

Eager to enjoy part of his flight home, he finished fueling and quickly got up to 20,000 feet to perform air-to-air exercises.

In his haste to put his plane through its paces, he forgot that the center of gravity was severely thrown off when a P-51's fuselage was full of fuel, which made any kind of fancy maneuvers unsafe. While attempting to put his plane in position behind the B-36, Capt. Ramstad put his plane into a sharp turn leaving him upside down and losing altitude fast. It was 2-3,000 feet before he righted the plane and was back in position to begin the exercises with the B-36.

After a few passes were made, Ramstad pulled up next to the B-36 and in a show of disdain for how slow the other vessel was traveling, he put his landing gear down. "If you're going to fly that slowly, you might as well land," said Capt. Ramstad. In return, a crew member, visible to Capt. Ramstad within the B-36, simply smiled and raised a cup of coffee, as if to say "you're at 20,000 feet in January, and you don't have this."

What made Capt. Ramstad's joke less funny was that his landing gear did not come back up when it was supposed to.

The B-36 was quick to inform him of his plight, despite already being informed by his instruments.

"Little friend, you've got one hanging," was what Capt. Ramstad heard come across the radio.

He tried four or five times to get the wheel to come up, before he tried descending to a lower, warmer altitude, as it was the heart of winter, and perhaps the cold was having a negative effect on his landing gear.

He tried flapping the wings back and forth while upside down, and the delinquent wheel finally went back into the plane where it belonged.

However, Ramstad's troubles were just starting. The extra fun with the B-36 had depleted his fuel supply more than he had planned, and he had to make a decision regarding where and when he would stop for more fuel.

The small St. Paul Airport was his best bet, but upon closer inspection, he realized that the runway was completely covered in deep snow.

"I had flown the P-51 for a while, and knew how far I could go on a tank of fuel. So, I leaned it back and figured I could make it to Duluth," said Capt. Ramstad. "By the time I was over Duluth I was going so slowly I could count the rotations of the prop as it passed by in front of me. I had called ahead, and as the runway came into view I could see the fire trucks and airport authorities waiting for me on the ground."

Capt. Ramstad put the landing gear down and only two of the three lights indicating his wheels were down lit up. The same wheel that would not retract earlier decided it wouldn't extend. Thinking quickly, Capt. Ramstad "yawed the plane"(flapped the wings up and down) and the stubborn wheel shook loose.

Capt. Ramstad landed the plane safely; satisfied he had made his journey with fuel to spare. He was later told that he had all of 10 additional minutes of flying time left in his fuel tank.

"It was not a comfortable feeling," said Capt. Ramstad.

The tale of Capt. Ramstad's ordeal was already known to his peers upon returning to the base that day.

"All the other pilots laughed and said 'you had to fly upside down to get the gear up'," said Capt. Ramstad.

Later that summer, while testing that very P-51 Mustang, another pilot planted the plane firmly into the ground. "He didn't know to yaw the plane," said Capt. Ramstad.

Before that story led into several more, Capt. Ramstad stopped himself in order to continue his tour of the base. When asked what he would like to see while on base, he smiled and replied "The main hanger, so I can climb into one of those aircraft!"